Tech Start-Ups: Hacking the Anti-PR Syndrome
Mark Cuban created a stir in the agency world earlier this year when he blogged that start-ups should never hire a PR firm. Just not worth the time and money, quoth the Maverick, who advocates a DIY approach to PR.
While that sentiment may be shared by some in the tech start-up arena, others are learning through direct experience the value of expert PR advice. At least one highly visible start-up leader’s take on the school of anti-agency rhetoric might be summed up as: “Sorry, Cuban — no cigar.”
This alternate point of view came to light at a recent DC Tech Meet-Up, a monthly gathering where Washington-area tech start-ups come to present their companies and network with other regional techies. Among the speakers was Navroop Mitter, co-founder and CEO of Gryphn, developer of the mobile messaging security app, ArmorText. Mitter entered the global spotlight this year at a White House event where he was photographed in a pink turban and necktie alongside President Obama. Once that photo hit the wire, it was off to the races with the media.
Mitter, who in person presents the pleasing combination of technical brilliance and modesty, says he was unprepared for the inundation of calls and in fact had nothing to do with setting up the photo, which was engineered by White House aides. Mitter also gave credit where it was due — to a PR professional — for invaluable guidance in handling the media storm that followed. I was frankly surprised to hear this from Mitter himself considering that DC Tech Meet-Up promoted his presentation with the title, “Hacking Startup PR,” and the evening’s MC gave the head Gryphn a “Cubanesque” audience intro.
Surprise. Mitter quickly dismissed the presentation’s billed title, disavowed that he was there to “hack” PR, and quickly revealed how he dealt with the unfamiliar experience of a sudden media deluge. Once the media swarm began, Mitter consulted with a friend in marketing/PR who provided expert counsel.
Hacking PR? Hardly. Mitter clearly had no interest in going on the attack. On the contrary, he seemed genuinely grateful for the help he received. Mitter was like a star witness who, with innocent candor, turns the tables on the prosecution and destroys their case.
So how did DC Tech Meet-Up end up staging this classic ready-fire-aim scenario? Maybe the author of that prezo title just didn’t bother to check the facts, or perhaps he/she fell into the trap of unsubstantiated story spinning. Either way, in the end the only “hacking” anyone witnessed was of the more conventional variety: slapdash writing.
Mitter’s presentation was a breath of fresh air. Hopefully other start-ups will pick-up on his experience and take it to the next level. Entrepreneurs with a great idea, a business model and a plan can benefit from a well-thought-out and executed communications strategy. With all due respect to the ultimate Maverick, whose genius we in most respects admire, there are solid reasons why start-ups should look to specialists in PR — they know what they’re doing.
The can-do attitude is a cherished trait, but its intended focus is what you do well, not what you know nothing about. As a reminder of how DIY can go awry, I keep a bookcase in my office that I handcrafted some years ago. Around here it’s dubbed The Leaning Tower of Books. If it weren’t nailed to the wall it would topple over. Start-ups intent on doing their own PR should consider whether they’re making a similar mistake: hiring an amateur when they need a craftsman.
Jim Crawford is the president and founder of Crawford PR. In Crawford blogs, he offers hard-earned perspective on public relations for the tech and broadband industries.